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why I'm tired of seeing white people on the big screen

Posted by on Jul. 29, 2014 at 12:03 AM
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Lucy: Why I'm Tired of Seeing White People on the Big Screen
Olivia Cole 07/28/14 03:08 PM ET
I'm tired of seeing white people on the silver screen.

First, let me note that I am white. I am a white woman who goes to the theater to see probably a dozen films (if not more) in a given year, a white woman who readily consumes TV shows and series and often blogs/tweets about them. I love film. I love what Hollywood could be, but I must say that I don't love what it is, and that is a machine generating story after story in which the audience is asked to root for a white (usually male) hero over and over and over (and over) again. I'm tired. I'm tired of directors pretending that white actors are the default and that people of color are a distraction when it comes to filmmaking. I'm tired of black women in Hollywood being relegated to roles of slaves and "the help" over and over again. I'm tired of films convincing themselves that they are taking on something fresh and new, the likes of which the world has never seen, but in actuality adhering to tired tropes and stereotypes.

One example that comes to mind is Avatar, a "groundbreaking" film about aliens and humanity, which, underneath it all, is the same old White Savior story. But more recently is Lucy, the film starring Scarlett Johansson in which a woman named Lucy evolves and is able to use 100 percent of her brain's capacity after she unwittingly ingests a massive amount of drugs.

Lucy is about what humankind could be -- it's about possibilities. As Lucy's brainpower grows stronger and the volume of knowledge she is able to access increases, she delivers monologues about how little humans understand about death, existence, and the universe, mediating on time and history. The film likes to think of itself as reimagining everything that we think we know about humanity, and presents to us their vision of what the most evolved woman on earth looks like:

A blonde white woman.

See, I just can't get right with that.

You see, I was an anthropology major in high school and by the time I was 16 I'd learned all about Lucy (Australopithecus), the collection of bones found in Hadar and thought to have lived 3.2 million years ago, one of the oldest hominids we know of. Lucy the film doesn't try to hide how cute they thought they were being by naming the supreme evolved being in their film "Lucy" -- they show an ape-like creature crouched by a stream to illustrate just how far human beings have come, and say as much in the opening lines, depicting vast cities built up to show our progress. The original Lucy was not really an ape, though. She had small skull capacity like apes, but her skeleton shows she was bipedal and walked upright like humans. Hadar, by the way, is in the Awash Valley of Ethiopia.

So I guess what's sticking in my craw is the assertion that while human life originated in Africa -- a detail the film neatly skims over, placing the ape-like Lucy that Johansson sees in North America -- somehow the way we imagine the most evolved human being is blonde and white. Even more, when Lucy gets surges of knowledge in the film, her eyes flash brightly blue. Because blue eyes, we all know, are the universal symbol of superiority, right?

How is it that in a film whose premise rests on the idea of reimagining the past, present and future, we still end up with a blonde white woman with flashing blue eyes as the stand-in for what personifies evolution and supremely fulfilled human potential? At one point the Ape-like Lucy and Evolved Lucy meet face-to-face as Evolved Lucy does a bit of time-traveling. Their fingers touch, and we see them deliberately posed to mimic the famous Creation of Adam painting, and in that moment I saw what I suppose we were supposed to see: humanity at its beginning, and then humanity at its end, at its most perfect. Blonde, white and blue-eyed.

I can't accept that. I can't accept that there was only one black woman in the entire film, who delivered one line and who we never saw again. I can't accept that the bad guys were Asian and that although in China, Lucy's roommate says, "I mean, who speaks Chinese? I don't speak Chinese!" I can't accept that in Hercules, which I also saw this weekend, there were no people of color except for Dwayne Johnson himself and his mixed-race wife, whose skin was almost alabaster. I can't accept that she got maybe two lines and was then murdered. I can't accept that the "primitive tribe" in Hercules consisted of dark-haired men painted heavily, blackish green, to give their skin (head-to-toe) a darker appearance, so the audience could easily differentiate between good and bad guys by the white vs. dark skin. I can't accept that during the previews, Exodus: Gods and Kings, a story about Moses leading the Israelite slaves out of Egypt, where not a single person of color is represented, casts Sigourney Weaver and Joel Edgerton to play Egyptians. I can't accept that in the preview for Kingsman: The Secret Service, which takes place in London, features a cast of white boys and not a single person of Indian descent, which make up the largest non-white ethnic group in London. I can't accept that in stories about the end of the world and the apocalypse, that somehow only white people survive. I can't accept that while my daily life is filled with black and brown women, they are completely absent, erased, when I look at a TV or movie screen.

I can't accept that. And I can't accept that when we think about the potential of humankind and what our brains are capable of doing and thinking and feeling, that people of color would be absent from that imagining. I can't accept that. And I won't. I'm tired of seeing people that look like me crowding screens both big and small: I am not what the world looks like. Hollywood, stop whitewashing characters. Give us more films like this year's Annie. I'm no Lucy -- like everyone else I'm only using a tiny amount of my brain's capacity. But you don't need to be a superhuman logic-machine to see that Hollywood has a major problem with depicting people of color, and it's time to actually reimagine what the world can and should be.
by on Jul. 29, 2014 at 12:03 AM
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Replies (1-10):
Goodwoman614
by Satan on Jul. 29, 2014 at 12:32 AM

BUMP!

Clairwil
by Ruby Member on Jul. 29, 2014 at 1:32 AM
4 moms liked this


Quoting Iconoclast:  

At one point the Ape-like Lucy and Evolved Lucy meet face-to-face as Evolved Lucy does a bit of time-traveling. Their fingers touch, and we see them deliberately posed to mimic the famous Creation of Adam painting, and in that moment I saw what I suppose we were supposed to see: humanity at its beginning, and then humanity at its end, at its most perfect. Blonde, white and blue-eyed. I can't accept that. 

To be fair (and the article does make a number of other points that are good)...

but can you imagine the headlines if the scene above had been shot with a black actress?

Momniscient
by Ruby Member on Jul. 29, 2014 at 2:07 AM
They'd be something.
Also Johansson, Scarlet.
Johanson, Donald.
Coincidence? Or divine intervention? Lol

The article did have good points though.


Quoting Clairwil:

Quoting Iconoclast:   At one point the Ape-like Lucy and Evolved Lucy meet face-to-face as Evolved Lucy does a bit of time-traveling. Their fingers touch, and we see them deliberately posed to mimic the famous Creation of Adam painting, and in that moment I saw what I suppose we were supposed to see: humanity at its beginning, and then humanity at its end, at its most perfect. Blonde, white and blue-eyed.

I can't accept that. 

To be fair (and the article does make a number of other points that are good)...

but can you imagine the headlines if the scene above had been shot with a black actress?

stormcris
by Christy on Jul. 29, 2014 at 2:30 AM

I like the points of the article but I think there was more of a stereotype that was missed. This woman was one who was taken and injected with drugs. The idea that only a blond would be stupid enough to get herself in such a situation is why I feel they used a blond. The blue eyes are often a representation in pictures of transcendence. It has been used to represent both good and evil (giving the premise of innocence most often as in children of the damned.) Such that I think the blue eyes were more symbolic. The truth is there is no such thing as blue eyes. However, if we had an evolution and irradiated light the eyes would appear blue even though there is no blue pigment, because simply the light would be most visible through scattering in the eyes according to the ideals of transcendence to a light being. The skin color would not matter in this case. Johansson's eyes are naturally green. Also, Scarlett Johansson is not a natural blond. I am somewhat surprised though that her hair did not become white by the end of the film if they were going for the light being transcendence, yet that may have felt a step too far for some people, or it could leave room for further evolution.

 

UpSheRises
by Platinum Member on Jul. 29, 2014 at 7:19 AM
Dave Chapelle has a good joke about this. He complains about The Last Mohican and the Last Samurai starring white guys the follows up with casting suggextions for a moviehe titles "the last racial slur for AA on earth". Of course he just uses the rscial slur.
momtoscott
by Platinum Member on Jul. 29, 2014 at 7:47 AM

I was hoping to see the title go in a more interesting direction than the author chose.  There's room for someone to write about how in some ways all we see in most movies is white people, because the people of other ethnicities and races are either caricatures or, if playing significant characters, they are acting, talking, and dressing "white."  

Lucy does reinforce the stereotypes of blond white women being weak and stupid and needing some outside force--if not a man, a drug--to become powerful human beings.  

Mommabearbergh
by on Jul. 29, 2014 at 8:16 AM
3 moms liked this

damn you got to it before I DID.LOL. Either way I believe what she had to say and its  honest. When there are movies of  people of color and they are  in the starring role it follows the formula of slave,sidekick or help and then when there are movies where the black people are successful it is looked at as not real because it doesn't fit the stereotype that black women and men can be married in healthy relationships taking care of their families.Clutch the pearls.lol

Iconoclast
by on Jul. 29, 2014 at 8:20 AM
It crossed my mind too. Definitely wouldn't have been a smart way to go.

Quoting Clairwil:

Quoting Iconoclast:   At one point the Ape-like Lucy and Evolved Lucy meet face-to-face as Evolved Lucy does a bit of time-traveling. Their fingers touch, and we see them deliberately posed to mimic the famous Creation of Adam painting, and in that moment I saw what I suppose we were supposed to see: humanity at its beginning, and then humanity at its end, at its most perfect. Blonde, white and blue-eyed.

I can't accept that. 

To be fair (and the article does make a number of other points that are good)...

but can you imagine the headlines if the scene above had been shot with a black actress?

VinVanMom
by Bronze Member on Jul. 29, 2014 at 8:27 AM
3 moms liked this

Why bring up Avatar which is a AA woman as the lead? Will Smith is a huge action star. Zoe Saldana and Paula Patton are getting tons of female lead roles. Why not acknowledge the strides were making? I see more Aa and Hispanic people represented everyday. Check out the view or other shows. Jennifer Lopez, Kim K, Beyonce..all the hottest things on Earth. All minorities. We see what we choose to see. I see the world as becoming more evolved. I mean our president is AA. Why all the negative? Jessica Alba and Rosario Dawson are the leads in Sin city. Maybe it's the movies you watch. 

Iconoclast
by on Jul. 29, 2014 at 8:28 AM
If the movie has no minorities I joke with my husband that it's an era before minorities existed.

There are many different avenues that could be taken, it is refreshing to see Someone other than a minority point out the lack of minorities in movies.

Quoting momtoscott:

I was hoping to see the title go in a more interesting direction than the author chose.  There's room for someone to write about how in some ways all we see in most movies is white people, because the people of other ethnicities and races are either caricatures or, if playing significant characters, they are acting, talking, and dressing "white."  

Lucy does reinforce the stereotypes of blond white women being weak and stupid and needing some outside force--if not a man, a drug--to become powerful human beings.  

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